Obituary - Dr John Stanley Mornington Zorab

Dr John Stanley Mornington Zorab

1929 to 2006

John Zorab was born on 16 January 1929 into a strong medical family, all of his five brothers going into medicine or dentistry. John was the youngest and the last survivor of his generation. He was educated at Cheltenham College, and then read medicine at Guys, qualifying MRCS LRCP in 1957.

By all accounts he had moments of considerable non-conformity at medical school. In cahoots with his mother, he made some printed note paper purporting to come from the Countess Schleswig-Holstein announcing that the Countess would be attending the final of the Hospitals Rugby Cup and would be pleased to be looked after in suitable fashion. There was much fussing about in the higher echelons and the Dean, the Vice Chancellor and the Lord Mayor all turned out. The Countess (alias John’s mother) turned up looking very regal in a Rolls Royce hired by John and was danced attendance upon by the sycophants. He never really had the heart to tell them.

He married Shirley in 1953 and their marriage was to prove a great and lasting success for them both for over 50 years. He trained in anaesthesia at Guys, Westminster and Southampton, under Sir Geoffrey Organe and Cyril Scurr from the Westminster, Phillip Helliwell from Guys and Patrick Shackleton from Southampton, obtaining his FFARCS (now FRCA) in 1962.

John was appointed to his consultant post at Frenchay in mid 1966 where he met Peter Baskett who became a lifelong friend and colleague. Working together and with Tom Wilton, they created an anaesthetic department with a national and international reputation for innovation and clinical excellence, but above all friendliness. Numerous anaesthetists both in the UK and around the world bear testimony to this.

John was a clear thinker, a diplomat and a formidable achiever. Together with Peter Baskett he set up the ICU at Frenchay, obtained a one-man hyperbaric chamber for treating coal gas poisoning and wrote a book on Immediate Care. He was also responsible for setting up the courses for the anaesthetic Fellowship across Bristol and stimulating the building of the hospital’s Postgraduate Medical Centre, which became a model across the UK. He helped to found the European Academy of Anaesthesia and the European Diploma in Anaesthesiology and Intensive Care, a truly multilingual exam which has been running for 22 years and attracts over 1000 candidates annually.

He went to Vietnam for six months to help clear up the aftermath of the ravages of war and set up, with Roger Eltringham, a programme for helping anaesthesiologists in developing countries.

John soon found himself on the Council of the Association of Anaesthetists and on the Board of the Faculty of Anaesthetists of the Royal College of Surgeons. He became Honorary Secretary of the Association and set about organising their annual meetings professionally, the blueprint of which remains to this day. By this time John was also developing an interest in anaesthesia both in Europe and worldwide. In 1982 he was the Secretary General of the European Congress held in London. He and Shirley were soon spotted as being a great talent and team and he rapidly rose to be President of the European Section and later President of the World Federation of Societies of Anaesthesiology. Together they attended every meeting until 2002. He was President of the Society of Anaesthetists of the South West Region in 1990–1991 and had Honorary Membership conferred just after his retirement.

In his latter years he became involved in hospital management at Frenchay, alongside Anne Lloyd, the Chief Executive. He was so effective in his initial appointment as Clinical Director for Anaesthesia and Intensive Care that the surgeons, who could not decide which of their number to choose, all agreed to ask John to become their Clinical Director and represent them too, being someone whom they could trust with their interests. So did the Emergency Department.

It was only natural that he should become Medical Director and he stayed on for two years after his retirement at 65 to fulfil this. Although he was his own man and never taken over by the system, Anne Lloyd respected this, and together with John Bradshaw, their management team was arguably the best Frenchay could have had.

After retirement he plunged himself into studying the history of medicine, and at 76 he took and passed the History of Medicine Diploma of the Society of Apothecaries (DHMSA). He also wrote numerous letters to the medical press deploring the standard of dress amongst some of the profession. He would exhort all doctors to smarten up a bit and wear a tie and a jacket when they saw a patient. He also said that being a doctor was a privilege and you worked until the job was done. The European Working Time Directive would never have concerned him and he always practiced what he preached.

Polite, always well dressed – with an old school or college tie and a handkerchief in his top pocket, he was very, very English. Very genial. He would say “I like to meet people, because with a name like mine they might think I was a foreigner”.

He was both tolerant and intolerant. Tolerant and helpful to the under dog. The friend of the timid SHO or nurse who had got into trouble. Tolerant and helpful to the overseas doctor from anywhere in the world, who needed access to a journal, a job opportunity, or some equipment.

Intolerant of arrogance, bullying and unfairness. Intolerant of the suppression of the young and the worthy. Intolerant of a lowering of professional standards. He was not very good at taking orders if he did not think it was a good idea. He never liked the practice of wearing a disposable hat in the operating theatre, preferring a bright red sun hat with “Acapulco” written on it.

Poor John had much more than his fair share of illness and pain. He bore everything with remarkable courage and fortitude and seemed to defy the laws of medicine on many occasions. He was also a deeply religious man, but never discussed this in depth, believing it was essentially a private matter.

John’s was devoted to his wife Shirley, to his family of four children and, latterly, his grandchildren. He and Shirley clearly had a deep love for each other – both thought constantly of how to help and please the other. They were a great couple together and are remembered fondly to this day in virtually every country in the world.

John Zorab made a major contribution to anaesthesia and intensive care both in the UK, in Europe and worldwide. Numerous friends and colleagues have been truly saddened by the news of his death, but he and the principles and standards he stood for will certainly not be forgotten. Many have reason to be grateful for John Zorab’s influence and wise advice at some stage of their career and we rejoice that we had the privilege to know him.

Dr P J F Baskett
Sir Peter Simpson
Dr J Carter